Dr. Stacy Storey
Insomnia is a very common sleep disorder, unfortunately. Insomnia can cause challenges with falling asleep, staying asleep, or returning to sleep after you’ve woken up. Insomnia can come on for the short term, which is called transient insomnia, it can last between 1-6 months which is short-term insomnia, or more than 6 months which is chronic insomnia. We will look at different causes of insomnia, and different tools that can help reduce the insomnia symptoms and help improve your quality of sleep.
There are many different causes that can lead to insomnia, to varying degrees. Stress and anxiety play a big role in insomnia symptoms. When you are under a lot of stress, or having anxiety about something, your mind will often be racing and having cyclical thoughts about whatever is causing the stress or anxiety. Laying awake with the thoughts of how you behaved in a situation or something that is coming up that you are not looking forward to, will definitely impact your sleep and your quality of sleep. Next, a poor sleeping environment can impact your sleep quality as well. Being too hot or too cold impacts sleep, not having enough comfort from pillows or blankets, or an old mattress can impact sleep quality. Lifestyle factors play a big role in insomnia. Working early shifts and then switching to a different work/sleep schedule, ingesting a lot of caffeine or alcohol before bed, or even traveling and being in different time zones. Mental health is always a big contributor to sleep, different mental health diagnoses and their subsequent symptoms can impact the quality of sleep and the quantity of sleep. Finally, medications can impact your ability to sleep or to get good sleep.
What can you do to help improve your sleep quality? Good sleep hygiene is a great place to start! Having a set time to go to bed, and a consistent bedtime schedule is a very helpful tool to support good sleep. Turning off all screens an hour before bed, so no blue light impacts your circadian rhythms to help improve your sleep. Sticking to a consistent bedtime, and actually going to bed at that time also helps. Waking up at the same time every day is a helpful tool as well, it helps your body get into a routine and helps to stick to it. Avoiding caffeine, exercise, or even alcohol before bed will help to improve sleep quality. Different research articles suggest about 2-3 hours before bed to not exercise or consume alcohol or caffeine, as well as not eating for about an hour before bed. Not taking naps during the day improves your quality of sleep as well, which brings us back to just creating that consistent sleep schedule for yourself. Finally, writing out your circling thoughts and worries/concerns before bed will help your mind not focus on them. Reminding yourself that the thoughts are on the page and you can deal with them tomorrow, or work through them tomorrow helps a lot.
Different tools you can use to improve your sleep are black-out curtains. Not having the light from outside coming in through your window always helps. Oftentimes times the blackout curtains also help to reduce the noise coming in from outside. Using white noise machines will help to reduce the thoughts circling in your head. Weighted blankets can help to decrease anxiety and stress. Finally, a journal to use before bed to get out all of the thoughts and help to go to bed with a clear mind.